150,000 airline seats involved in another Japanese recall

More bad news for Japanese companies today, as Yokohama based Koito Industries admitted to falsifying test results from its line of airplane seats.

According to the Japanese transportation ministry, the entire testing department at Koito was involved in the scandal, and it may have been going on since the mid 90’s.

During the investigation, officials discovered that Koito skipped entire tests, and used data from past tests instead. In addition to this, they manipulated computer screens so they would show false figures during tests observed by the government.

The false information can have potentially catastrophic results – results of fire resistance and strength were falsified on as many as 150,000 seats installed on planes from 32 airlines.

According to the Koito site, they sold seats to airlines like Continental, JAL, ANA, KLM, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic and SAS. Whether those airlines actually received seats involved in this recall is unknown.

Of course, the timing of this recall is terrible for the Japanese – as they are in the middle of their embarrassing admission of how Toyota handled their safety issues. Make no mistake – 150,000 airline seats in need of potential improvements could turn into a major problem for those airlines involved, especially if the recall means seats need to be replaced.

As of right now, there is apparently “no cause for concern” – the Japanese transportation ministry has approved the continued use of the seats after consulting the Federal Aviation Administration.

Update: Initially, this article had listed Air Canada as a current user of Koito seats (based off information from the Koito site). The airline contacted us to let us know that they removed all Koito seats in 2008. None of the seats in the Air Canada fleet are currently from the troubled Japanese company. Thanks to Air Canada for that correction.

Update: How the Toyota recall impacts your next car rental

Though Toyota announced a fix for its problematic accelerator pedals on Monday, some car-rental companies are still trying to remove the cars from its fleets.

Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car, and National Car Rental brands, said Tuesday that it has successfully removed 83 percent of the estimated 35,000 recalled vehicles from its rental pool. This overall number is about 4 percent of its North American fleet. The Enterprise brand also has the benefit of having both airport and suburban locations, which means its inventory can be shifted around fairly quickly depending on demand.

Avis has said that if you wind up with a non-recalled Toyota rental and you prefer to drive another brand, they’ll switch you to another vehicle. This gesture of good will is naturally based on availability. With Presidents’ Day weekend falling at the same time as Valentine’s Day, it’ll be interesting to see if the car-rental companies can anticipate the demand of the holiday weekend.

If you are planning to rent a car over the long weekend, please let us know if you encounter any problems–or any unexpected perks.

Tip: Sometimes you may be upgraded at no extra cost if the rental category you reserved is no longer available. When I was in Oahu a few years back, my friend and I reserved an economy-class car through Enterprise. We were bumped up to a SUV when the rental location ran out of economy cars. As I said, this was a few years ago–before driving gas guzzlers became passé and before you had to worry about an accelerator pedal getting stuck.

Update: Automotive Traveler reports the following short-term price hikes of rentals from Hertz, Enterprise Holdings, Avis Budget and Dollar Thrifty: “Daily rates for both mid-size and full-size cars have increased an average of 46 percent at New York’s JFK airport across all four of the companies and their respective brands mentioned above. Yet prices at LAX for the same rental period and vehicle classes remained almost unchanged. At the Miami and Denver airport locations, results have been mixed depending on the vehicle class. Mid-size cars at MIA saw only a 3-percent increase, while full-size cars rose 10 percent. Data from DEN showed a 23-percent increase for mid-size cars and a 16-percent increase for full-size.”

[Thanks, Automotive Traveler]

Will the Toyota recall affect your next car rental?

Toyota‘s massive recall due to faulty accelerator pedals is trickling down into car-rental companies. How does the recall affect your next rental?

I checked in with some of the major players to see how they’re handling the recall, now estimated at more than 9 million worldwide.

Avis Budget: About 20,000 cars have been grounded due to the recall. “Our fleet is 7 percent smaller today, but we are receiving weekly deliveries of new vehicles from the purchase agreements we made months ago with our suppliers,” Avis Budget spokesperson John Barrows told me via e-mail. “So we expect to be able to fulfill all demand for any rental occasion while we await guidance from Toyota regarding the handling of the recalled vehicles.”

Dollar Thrifty: The recall represents less than 1.5 percent of the overall Dollar Thrifty fleet. “We have currently grounded the vehicles and are working with Toyota on inspection of the vehicles and a proper resolution of the issue. We do not have any significant Toyotas on order,” Scott Thompson, president and CEO of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, said in a written statement.

Zipcar: Toyota’s recall affects about 5 percent of the Zipcar fleet. The car-sharing company isn’t taking new reservations on any recalled vehicles, which include the 2009 and 2010 Toyota Matrix. If you already have a reservation on a Toyota Matrix, Zipcar will move you to a different car and compensate you for any rate difference. If you’d rather bail, any cancellation fees will be waived. For questions about upcoming reservations, call Member Services at 866/494-7227.

The silver lining: Many car-rental companies, such as Avis, Budget, Dollar, and Thrifty, only let you reserve a certain vehicle class (compact/economy, mid-size, full-size). Since you weren’t able to specify a make/model to begin with, at least you won’t have to deal with re-booking because the car you wanted is suddenly unavailable.

In general, car-rental companies had already been shrinking its fleets, which was resulting in higher prices. We’ll keep an eye on how this will affect pricing now that the supply is even smaller. I’ll also update once I hear back from Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National.

Public service announcement: stop using your iPhone 3G charger!

Our friends at Engadget are reporting on a potentially dangerous situation with the charger included with the iPhone 3G. Apparently the prongs on the tiny Apple USB charger are prone to staying in your outlet when you unplug it, creating the kind of situation you’d rather avoid.

Apple.com has all the information you need, including where you can order a new charger. The replacements will be shipped out starting October 10th, which is also the date you’ll be able to walk into the local Apple store and leave with the new version. The defective charger was only included with the iPhone sold in the US, Mexico, Canada, Japan and various Latin American countries.

Apple strongly suggests that you cease using the charger, and simply use the included USB cable to charge your phone using your computer. Alternatively, you can use the previous generation charger (with the folding prongs) or almost any other generic USB charger.

Stay safe, and if you do happen to run into the problem described, be sure to disconnect the power before even thinking of trying to recover the broken prong from your outlet!